The House of Thunder

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Dean R. Koontz delights in creating seemingly supernatural tales of terror that ultimately turn out to have a real-world explanation. The fright and terror builds for readers because they share the main character’s uncertainty as to why these bizarre and frequently grotesque events are taking place. In the case of Susan Thornton, it appears that four men who were responsible for the hazing death of her boyfriend years before have come back to punish her. The Willawauk hospital becomes the prison in which she must elude her tormentors while also attempting to make sense of a world in which--thanks to her accident-induced amnesia--she can no longer remember her past.

The explanation for what happened to Susan Thornton borders on the impossibly ridiculous: She was a particle physicist who worked at a secret defense department think tank creating sophisticated weapons systems. When the Soviets got wind of this facility, they abducted Thornton, took her to the Soviet Union, and attempted--via sophisticated deprogramming/ brainwashing methods--to break her down in order to learn American military secrets. What appears to be a small town in Oregon is actually a mock-up of an American town equipped to mimic any era down to the correct dress and small bits of everyday life. It is from this town that a Soviet double agent who has fallen in love with Thornton helps her to escape.

THE HOUSE OF THUNDER is typical of early Koontz thriller fiction, before he became popular as a horror writer. Originally published under one of his many pseudonyms, Leigh Nichols, in 1982, this book is now being reissued to ride the wave of Koontz’s current popularity. It stands only as a marginal success at best, and it certainly does not measure up to the quality of his most recent work, such as LIGHTNING, WATCHERS, or STRANGERS.